There’s no way to sugarcoat it: The Vandals’ past two games were brutal.
After knocking off Montana State 20-17 in its home opener, Idaho dropped games to Washington and Washington State by a combined score of 115-20.
And while teams like to find positives in losses, that’s a fairly fruitless task for the Vandals. After falling 56-6 to Washington State last Saturday, Idaho is ranked 124th out of 128 FBS teams in scoring offense and 125th in scoring defense.
So maybe tight end Deon Watson has the best strategy heading into Saturday’s game (7 p.m., 630 AM) against Mountain West opponent UNLV: a short memory.
“We just need to put the past few weeks behind us,” Watson said.
UNLV (1-2) is a more manageable opponent (favored by 15 points), but coach Paul Petrino said Idaho will need to show improvement to be competitive. He was especially disappointed in his team’s effort in the fourth quarter last week, when the Cougars outscored them 28-0.
“We’ve got to play way better than that be beat anybody,” Petrino said.
Play on both sides of the ball has been disappointing, but it might be the lack of firepower from the offense that is especially dismaying. Petrino set a lofty goal for the offense in fall camp: 40 points per game.
The Vandals are averaging 13.3 points through three games.
“We’ve got to score points,” Petrino said. “It doesn’t matter who you play, if you don’t score points you’re not going to win.”
Perhaps the best way to do that is to keep feeding the ball to Watson. The 6-foot-4, 221-pound senior leads Idaho’s receivers with 10 receptions and 170 yards.
“I think he’s done well,” Petrino said. “I think he can pick it up even more. Again, offense is all 11 guys doing their jobs. … He’s done some good things and Trent (Cowan) played well at Washington. We’ve got to continue to get those two playing better.”
After addressing his tight end play, Petrino singled out receiver Callen Hightower, who had more than 100 yards in three of Idaho’s final five games last season, including a 161-yard effort at Auburn. This year, he has eight catches for 58 yards.
“Hightower has got to start stepping up and making some plays for us,” Petrino said. “We’ve just got to start making some plays in the open field.”
Watson is confident Hightower can do that.
“Talking to him and the other receivers, we’re all hungry for this next game and getting a chance to show what we can do,” Watson said. “I think the receiving corps and the tight end group can expand on what we’ve done. We haven’t even had a 100-yard game yet. … So these next few games are going to be big for the receiving crew and getting that confidence back.”
Looking ahead is the only sane strategy for the Vandals. Petrino was quick to point out that after UNLV, Idaho closes out the season with eight Sun Belt games. So many of the team’s goals are still attainable.
“It’s a long season and we still have quite a few games to look forward to,” Watson said. “Spirits are still high and we’re all staying pretty positive about the rest of the season.”